Venezuela debt reaches flashpoint in political crisis

12 Aug 2017   Venezuela

At what point does a country’s political situation become intolerable for bond investors? That is the question facing holders of Venezuela’s debt as the nation’s descent into strife raises questions about investment ethics. This week, Credit Suisse circulated a memo outlining a ban on trading in two Venezuelan bonds, reflecting growing unease about the reputational risks of being associated with a country under the increasingly autocratic government of Nicolás Maduro. Venezuelan bond yields remain elevated and prices depressed after President Maduro staged a power grab last week, pressing ahead with the formation of a constituent assembly that will rewrite the country’s constitution after a widely discredited election. In response to Mr Maduro’s obduracy and the jailing of opposition politicians Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma the US has imposed fresh sanctions on several Venezuelan officials. For now Donald Trump has held off on taking action against the country’s oil sales, Venezuela’s main source of foreign currency. Caracas’ debt has emerged as a flashpoint in the crisis. The purchase of $2.8bn worth of Venezuelan bonds from the state oil company, PDVSA, by the asset management arm of Goldman Sachs earlier this year attracted heavy criticism from the country’s opposition arguing that they constituted “hunger bonds” that help support the autocratic government. Now Credit Suisse has banned trading in a sovereign issue due in 2036 and PDVSA’s bond maturing in 2022 — the issue purchased by GSAM. The bank said it would also prohibit trading in any bonds issued after June 1 from any Venezuelan entity.

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